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Counties start drug testing felons who receive state aid

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The Duluth News Tribune reports on St. Louis County's effort to start enforcing a little-known Minnesota law approved in 2012 that requires counties to test convicted drug felons if they are receiving state aid benefits.

What's new is that counties are now actively seeking out people with felony records who get benefits, the newspaper reports. In the past, the state and counties have asked that the beneficiaries "self report" felony drug convictions, which seldom happened, the News Tribune reports.

The state Department of Human Services is now comparing lists of drug felons with welfare recipients. In St. Louis County, the enforcement initiative began in October, and 187 drug felons have been found on the welfare list (about 4 percent of those receiving the most common state benefits), the News Tribune reports. But there was not an immediate tally available of how many of the 187 failed a drug test, the newspaper reports.

It's not yet how many beneficiaries might lose their aid under the new law.

Here's a four-page pdf on the state's plan for implementation of the 2012 Minnesota law. The law was a compromise between those who advocate for drug tests to provide more accountability in state spending, and those who fear civil liberties are being sacrificed, as well as those who don't want to punish those who need critical aid, the News Tribune reports.

Requiring drug tests for felons on welfare has been controversial nationwide. In North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory in August vetoed drug testing for welfare benefit applicants. In Maine, Gov. Paul LePage has pushed for legislation that would make drug felons ineligible for benefits.

In Florida, courts have dealt several blows to a state law that requires the tests.

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